Sometimes it’s personal (it’s always personal)

Sometimes it’s personal (it’s always personal)

Bike Auckland

A good friend of Bike Auckland got skittled on Onewa Road on Wednesday night. He’s okay – well, he’s alive and recovering. The shock of the incident led to a conversation within our team that we wanted to share with you, below.

And then came the tragic news of a car vs bike fatality on Te Atatu Rd on Thursday evening, which made it all the more horribly relevant. We are absolutely heartbroken for everyone involved, and for our Bike Te Atatu whanau who have worked so hard over so many years to try and make changes to prevent exactly this from happening.

Every time an Aucklander – a family member, a friend, a workmate, a neighbour – is injured or killed on a bike while just trying to get where they’re going, we feel we’ve failed, although it won’t stop us trying. And this year has been awful in terms of fatalities: nationally, this is the 18th cycling fatality this year, compared with 5 last year.

It’s also been the biggest year for biking in Auckland: more and more of us are getting on our bikes, riding round our neighbourhoods, and flowing along the newly built cycleways. The appetite and the optimism is there – along with the knowledge that riding a bike is safer than you might think, and that making space for cycling is a normal and expected stage in a 21st C city’s evolution.

But when things like this happen, we’re reminded all over again just how far we have to go.

This is a hard conversation to have. But, especially in a week where influential commentators have scorned protected cycleways as ‘useless’ and claimed to see ‘no bikes’, and where loud voices in one neighbourhood are calling for an immediate halt to construction of the entire bike network across the city under the watchword of ‘safety’ (while describing an intersection that schoolchildren use daily as ‘a soft ballet of cars, flowing beautifully’), we need to have this conversation.

There is hope. The investment in safe space for cycling continues. And we are heartened by new moves at the local and national level towards a safer and more balanced approach to our streets.

We’re encouraged to see talk at AT, NZTA, and government of moving to a Vision Zero philosophy that has, as its bottom line, the principle that no death on the roads is acceptable, and that our elected and designated representatives must do everything within their powers to make sure everyone gets home safe.

These changes can’t come soon enough.

And for too many families already, they didn’t come soon enough.

Dear all,

Irish is a Composites Engineer, part of a team that moved Skypath forward. He was biking in the T3 lane on Onewa Rd early on Wednesday evening, when a car suddenly cut out of the queue into the lane, knocking him onto the tarseal. No indication before the turn, and the usual ‘I didn’t see you’ afterwards. It was daylight.

The driver’s move was futile, because the T3 lane was blocked by parked cars. The person in the car was just trying to get a few cars ahead in the queue before cutting back in.

Onewa Rd, where it happened.

Irish needs a new helmet and riding gear, and his doctor wife, who usually ignores his medical complaints, was unusually concerned about the deep grazes on his elbow and thigh. Irish himself was very shaken.

It struck me that objections from residents against improvements tend to generate a lot of noise and occasional vitriol. But likely every day, someone like Irish experiences a fright, a near miss, or a small personal tragedy that they stoically endure mostly in silence.

Some residents, business owners, people in cars and Mike Hosking will probably always have a problem prioritising Irish’s journey or even accepting he has the right to make it. A cold-hearted response might even be that if Irish is stupid enough to ride his bike on Onewa Road, then he got what he deserved.

Irish is a local. He pays rates; he’s a taxpayer. One of the reason he’s riding is to stay fit and healthy. He’s also trying to save money; he and the Doctor got married this year, so it’s been an expensive time. He is also avoiding producing carbon and freeing up road space for people without other transport choices. All of this makes us inclined to read him as a ‘worthy’ person – and it should also be beside the point. He’s a fellow human being. That’s enough.

This incident has been a reminder that every day in our city, people walking and cycling are paying the price, disproportionately: with skin and bone, and from time to time, with their lives.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the scale: a few more cars ahead in a queue, a few seconds saved, an extra car park or two. Where’s the balance? Bring on Vision Zero.

And the reply:

My sympathies for Irish. Being a Birkenhead resident, I’m a regular commuter on Onewa Rd and have frequently experienced exactly the same situation, both on my motorbike (which once resulted in a crash), and on my bicycle where I once miraculously stayed upright when a car cut in front of me and I bounced off it.  Those T3 lanes on Onewa really are suicide lanes with cars jumping in and out of it at speed and with no indication, both peak and off-peak.

There’s an inadequate two-way shared path on the southern side of Onewa Rd, which went in with the westbound T3 implementation, but no one uses it eastbound as it’s so dangerous downhill with multiple driveway conflicts.

Long ago we lobbied for a northern side eastbound shared path, primarily to cater for kids to get to Northcote College. It fell by the wayside.

I’m hoping that with SkyPath’s new impetus and hopefully greater Urban Cycleways funding that AT will now be able to look more closely at cycle connectivity in the Birkenhead/Northcote area.  While it’ll be great having SkyPath, SeaPath and the Northcote Safe Cycle Route, we need the links to get to them.

For as long as vulnerable cyclists are forced to share the road with motorists we’ll continue to have the brave suffering injuries, and the risk-averse not getting on a bike at all.

As you say, bring on Vision Zero.

Updated Saturday 9 December, 2017: the person killed on Thursday evening was Te Atatu resident John Bonner, who leaves behind a wife and three sons and a devastated community. Our hearts go out to the Bonner family and everyone affected.

Image from the NZ Herald article about the Te Atatu crash. While details of Thursday’s incident are still unclear, locals know the conditions here: painted bike lanes, four lanes of traffic reducing at a pinch point to two, and no safe crossing for pedestrians or people on bikes for a full 1.1km.

Header image: the ‘ghost bike’ memorial for Jane Bishop, killed in 2012 on Tamaki Drive. 


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